Laughing meditation descends on Iowa City
Shrieks and squeaks, chuckles and giggles, and a few tears filled the room. Slowly at first, and a bit awkwardly, nine women laughed until they couldn’t stop. For an hour, the smiles did not cease at a first-ever laughing meditation session in Iowa City.
Pamela Sabin of Wild Flower Healing Arts led the nine women through a session of laughing meditation Tuesday evening at Virtue Medicine Studio in Iowa City, in the first of seven sessions.
The purpose of laughing meditation is to open people up and allow them to laugh, bringing them supposed mental, emotional, and physical health benefits.
“It’s good for the whole body, not only your spirit,” Sabin said.
And science seems to agree.
The Mayo Clinic dedicates a page on its website to the benefits of laughter, both long-term and short-term. These include stimulation of organs, slowing down the stress response, soothing tension, improving the immune system, and relieving pain.
“When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body,” according to Mayo Clinic’s website.
The Cancer Treatment Centers of America lists and offers laughter therapy as a possible additional treatment.
A study printed in the biological research journal Proceedings of Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, found that laughter increases the physical tolerance to pain, because of the naturally released endorphins in the brain.
These endorphins are one of the reasons Sue Ellen CrossLea, 70, came to the laughing meditation.
“I really was having this extreme trauma and drama,” she said. “I thought this would be a good way to counteract the long dark shadows. [Now] I feel much, much better.”
The class began with stretching and flowed into a couple of shouted YAHOOs. The facial muscles were flexed and readied, and a few warm-up jokes were dropped. But the real fun came with the laughing exercises.
“For an hour, just take all that’s bothering you and set it outside,” Sabin told the class. “Give yourself an opportunity to just enjoy.”
First came the “knee slapper.” Hands began high in the air, and when they hit the leg, the class was instructed to let the laughter rush out. The women were self-conscious, and eyes darted around. But when they heard the laughter of Sabin, the giggles spread, loosening up the group.
“It’s a little awkward at first, but once you start laughing it’s just the best,” 56-year-old Cindy Reed said.
Next came the pretend cell phones. The giggles began before the instructions were fully explained. With a hand held like a fake phone, the class meandered around the room, pretending to laugh at something funny, until they were laughing at each other and themselves, phones forgotten. The shrieks grew as women ran into each other, and saw the laughter on each other’s faces.
“I felt hilarious,” 34-year-old Anna Rhodes said.
But the phone calls seemed mild compared to the bows.
“Ha Ha, Hoo Hoo, He he he,” Sabin said, and the class followed with amusement.
They bowed to each other, moving around the chairs, and repeated the phrase with each bow. Soon, the bows became longer as laughter almost brought them to their knees. Fingers pointed at a particularly strong reaction, and everyone joined in.
And then they just sat and laughed until a bell rang and brought them slowly into a silent meditation. Often laughter would interrupt the silence, but a peace was slowly achieved.
“I feel really great,” Rhodes said. “I feel light and happy. At the end when she rang the bell and were quiet, I felt blissful.”
The whole class felt better. Body language changed, relaxed, and people began to tell personal stories of happiness.
“I think everyone looked like they changed in some way,” Sabin said.